Administration of cost-savings measures in public services: greater vigilance is needed to maintain service quality
Québec City, September 17, 2015 – The 2014-2015 Annual Report of the Québec Ombudsman was tabled today in the National Assembly.
This year the institution intervened regarding 69% of Québec’s government departments and agencies and 59% of institutions within the health and social services network. Its recommendations, more than 97% of which were accepted, contributed to major advances, achieved in large part thanks to the competence, full cooperation and sense of public duty of the majority of the government employees.
“From the outset, I would like to point out that tight management of public funds is not, in my opinion, inconsistent with quality services. But resource decreases or reallocation call for informed, deliberate and rigorously applied choices,” cautioned Ombudsperson Raymonde Saint-Germain.
In the course of its interventions, the Québec Ombudsman has seen that citizens bear the brunt of some of these choices.
The Québec Ombudsman has noted that consideration and commitment were not always there to prevent the adverse effects of cost-savings measures on individuals and businesses.
In public services, substantiated complaints that have a financial impact have risen in the last five years from 15.7% of all substantiated complaints in 2010-2011 to 27.7% in 2014-2015.
For example, in its fight against tax fraud—initiatives which, incidentally, are entirely warranted—Revenu Québec wrongly assumed that certain businesses were guilty by association. The Commission de la santé et de la sécurité du travail continued to use internal directives as a way of reducing indemnities provided for in legislation. The Ministère du Travail, de l’Emploi et de la Solidarité sociale sometimes applied recovery measures that did not comply with the law or, in other cases, with Tribunal administratif du Québec decisions.
As for the health and social services network, health and social services centres (CSSSs) were slow to relocate elderly users whose residence no longer met their needs, even though the managers of the residences did report the situation. Residential and long-term care centres (CHSLDs) cut back on residents’ hygiene care when, in fact, there should have been more. All of this against a backdrop in which charging of fees, some undue and not always lawfully payable, is increasing.
Also noting with disappointment that major issues are not on the radar, even though needs are glaring, the Ombudsperson exhorts public authorities to gauge the social and economic consequences of under-investment in crucial services. In her opinion, cases in point are services for people with mental health problems, home support services in the context of an aging population and limited public residential resources, as well as in education, where services should be better adapted to students with difficulties.
A growing trend: excessive recourse to the courts
Lastly, the Ombudsperson drew attention to a growing and costly trend for citizens and the public purse alike: excessive reliance on the courts. She has observed that despite the alternative modes of dispute settlement enshrined in the Code of Civil Procedure, certain departments and agencies tend to favour a judicial approach even though less costly and quicker means are available.
As the Ombudsperson sees it, “this does not mean that the interest of and need for recourse to the courts should be automatically denied, but it must be considered as a last resort.”
She considers this to be an advisable approach at a time of belt tightening and one that would help restore citizens’ trust in the Administration.
About the Québec Ombudsman
As Québec’s parliamentary ombudsman, the Québec Ombudsman handles complaints about the public service impartially and independently. Its mission consists in ensuring that the rights of citizens are upheld in their dealings with the public service and the health and social services network. In so doing, it participates in improving the quality of Québec’s public services.
See the 2014-2015 Annual Report of the Québec Ombudsman.
Press relations :
Carole-Anne Huot, 418-646-7143/418-925-7994